I am so pleased to announce that Thompson & Morgan have allowed me to come back and write a new series about my garden entitled Another Year in the Greenhouse. To be honest, I thought I made so many basic greenhouse mistakes that they would run screaming to the hills. However, it was quite the opposite; they said they liked to hear about the failures as well as the successes; after all I am not a trained gardener. I’m just an ordinary person with an office job, who likes to escape into the greenhouse whenever I can.
I really hope I don’t make such silly mistakes though. Last year I thought it would be so easy to erect a second greenhouse and apply the same principles that I had to the original smaller one. Unfortunately I didn’t think about how the light would fall, how the sun moved on a different course or how the slope of the garden would make it look like I was standing at an angle even though the base was perfectly level, giving me horrible vertigo especially after a severe dose of Labrynthitis.
The Labrynthitis, was my worst gardening problem as it lasted months, I would stand in the greenhouse with my eyes squeezed shut hoping that I wouldn’t go crashing into the plants or glass, all the while thinking I can’t give in, I have plants to grow and a blog to write!
So this year my resolution is to do a better job than I did last year. At least I have a good amount of spring flowers and bulbs growing healthily already in them. With the extremely mild winter that we have so far had, the Californian Poppies have developed strong roots, and although they are currently a bit sleepy there does look like fresh green leaves on them.
I have no idea how the Yarrows will be potted on as they went from tiny seedlings to plug plants practically overnight. The roots are so tangled I could end up damaging them, I think the best thing I can do is to put them in bigger pots in one root ball as soon as possible and start hardening them off in February, then plant them in the old hollyhock patch in Spring.
After reading many different articles on the best time to sow sweet peas, I thought I would try a September sowing to see for myself if they would last through the dark months. Amazingly they have, although during late December I had to keep nipping the tops as they were getting too tall. They have now put out side shoots that should develop extra flowers in the summer. I only planted two seeds as I didn’t want to waste them if it went wrong, now I wish I had grown more. January is also a very good time to start off sweet peas so I am considering growing some more.
Bo t h my mum and Mark’s parents gave me garden related Christmas gifts, two sets of hanging shelves for the big greenhouse and some clever cane grips that mean I can create wigwams without having to fight with the string and scissor. So one of the first jobs Mark did this month was to wash all of the glass again because the salt laden winds have really taken its toll, and the second job was to put the shelves up. They only useful thing I did was make the tea stand in the greenhouse so he sees if I could reach them or not. My being five foot has its advantages, in that he didn’t have to stretch very far or use a step ladder to get the shelves at the height I wanted.
A quick inventory of the small greenhouse consists of the above mentioned plants plus, a red geranium that is still flowering since September, a tomato plant, two pots of Nigella, two tiny Broccoli seedlings, a spiky cactus that I forgot to bring indoors, five Aloe Vera’s, a Spider Plant that is too big for indoors, and a Thyme cutting. In the border of the small greenhouse was Spinach Beet that had got seriously big and bitter tasting so we pulled it up, as I have a new plan for this border. I will definitely grow Spinach Beet again though in the autumn as it’s so reliable and tasty. In the large greenhouse I have a Bell Pepper that is still trying to produce fruits. I don’t know if you can grow peppers for more than one year but this one hasn’t died off so, I keep picking off and composting the tiny fruit in the hope that I can move it to a sunnier spot in the greenhouse. Also overwintering is my large Aloe Vera and a Money Plant. I had hoped to utilise the space more in the winter but a late slug attack meant my cauliflowers and cabbage seedlings were destroyed.
My final jobs for January will be to start washing my slightly dusty pots, sieve the garden centre bought compost and plant some more seeds. This month is ideal for starting off Snap Dragons, Geraniums, Dianthifolia and Pennisetum and Salad leaves. I will be growing all of these from seed plus two others that I am hugely excited about. One is the half hardy shrub Banksia Hookeriana which will eventually replace a dying broom. The other is a Cycad. A truly magical greenhouse fern. I say this because when I was sent the seeds last year from Thompson & Morgan I had no idea what it was. I had to go on their website to find out and it amazed me. The cycad is a fossil, it was on Earth long before the dinosaurs, it has lived through millions of years of climate change, and evolution. It’s hard to believe I have a seed in my hands that is so ancient and yet so new. I was telling a friend about it and I said I was worried about accidentally destroying something so historically valuable. Don’t get me wrong the seeds are not hugely expensive and it’s not a rare endangered fern as the seeds wouldn’t be for sale, I just meant that I hope I can be trusted to grow something that has been around forever without getting it wrong. I think I will be doing some more research though before I open the packet though.
Finally, if I have whetted your appetite for seed sowing, then take advantage of the January sales, there are often offers for half price or even free packets or seeds. This month Thompson & Morgan are offering readers of a National Magazine twelve packets of free seeds for £3.20 P&P. They include vegetables, flowers for cutting and flowers for wildlife. I’m tempted are you?
Until next month.
Petunia Hanging Basket
I love petunias, they are so bright and colourful and make beautiful displays in hanging baskets and containers. I use mainly baskets and containers in my garden which are displayed on my decking at the front of my house during the summer.
This year I wanted to do something different with the petunias. Our local football team AFC Bournemouth had been promoted to the Premier League so I decided to do something in their honour. I have a stand with three baskets, small, medium and large which stands by my front door. The Bournemouth colours are black and red so I bought some red double petunias and was able to find some single black petunias which looked just like velvet. I planted them and stood back to await the results. Bournemouth Football club sent me a digital photo of their emblem which I enlarged and put in the window at the side of the petunias. It caused interest amongst neighbours especially those who were supporters including two of my grandchildren. As you see on the photo I had a hanging basket with the same petunias in just to the right of the stand and they ended up in growing together.
I also grew some very different petunias, a cerise colour with very light leaves which really showed up the colour of the flower and lasted for most of the summer. Another idea I had was to grow red, white and blue petunias for the fence baskets which worked out very well, and also a red, white and blue triple hanging basket. Red in the top, white in the middle and blue in the bottom basket.
I have also had success with growing petunias in hanging bags but have learnt from previous disappointments that when I have planted up the bag is to leave it lying flat until they are settled. This seemed to work much better for me this year. I really like the new kind of petunia which graduates from white in the centre to a deeper colour middle to top of the flower. A couple of years ago I tried some climbing petunias – Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ – which were very successful.
Petunia in hanging bag
Of course it hasn`t all been success, I got up one morning only to find that the dripper from the watering system had fallen out of one of the baskets and the strong winds we had dried it out completely. Although I tried very hard to save it I wasn`t able to, and another basket this happened to, I had to cut them right back, soaked it in a bucket of water and in about a month they were all flowering again, so at 77 I still have to ‘live and learn`!
This year I bought some petunias called Petunia ‘Peach Sundae’ they were beautiful shades of yellow, orange and peach. They lasted throughout the whole summer no matter what the weather did, including some torrential rain and hailstones but after a few days they all just bounced back again.
Petunia ‘Peach Sundae’
I am now wondering which petunias I shall plant for this coming year? Roll on summer I say.
Early December: At last work has started on the front garden. We had planned to complete it in November but now we are aiming for mid-December so that we can get the exterior festive lighting installed for Christmas.
Combining hard landscaping for car parking with an environmentally friendly green space is such a hot topic these days – the balance has to be just right, incorporating practicality & creativity. Air pollution in the London suburbs is relatively light, but as the front garden is north facing, the plants have to be able to withstand exposure to string winds.
Day 1: David’s first job was removing the privet hedge, quite controversial at it was decades old, but we have assuaged our guilt by increasing the space allotted for plants (that’s the whole point of this exercise in my view) and creating better drainage on the drive. However I hope that the more open plan design does not encourage any opportunist theft. Previous pots had to be anchored down to avoid temptation!
Day 2: My task was to lift and pot up all the ornamental grasses and T&M tree lilies from the central raised bed into temporary containers, so that David could dismantle it, a mixed blessing as it turned out, as I was able to divide the grasses and separate all the bulbils for propagation. The tree lily collection was part of the T&M summer 2014 trials so this was their 2nd summer in the front garden; I lifted well over a dozen healthy bulbs, each one with several bulbils, and some even fell apart into two huge intact pieces. The ornamental grasses provide year round interest, but the tree lilies are the star turn in the summer, their towering stems and multiple flower heads pumping out fragrance that stops passers-by in their tracks. I know from experience that they grow taller with each year so I had better give them plenty of room in the new scheme. One main objective is to disguise the three council waste bins whilst still allowing regular access and mobility. Somehow David has to incorporate our water butt and a couple of small storage cupboards in the recess between the front bay windows too! A combination of contemporary fencing and tall ornamental grasses should do the trick by drawing the eye towards the dense planting scheme.
Days 3, 4 & 5: It looks a bit stark right now with all the plants out and the hard landscaping being laid: the raised bed’s retaining walls are being constructed with new railway sleepers, the concrete surface has been broken up for better drainage and gravel is being poured into the base. The horizontal wooden slatted fencing is almost in place, and the overall layout is working out as planned. I can already see a seaside theme emerging (never mind the fact that we are in the middle of a city). Neighbours and passers-by are stopping to see how our latest project is taking shape.
Mid-December: Having just returned from a trip to the south Cornish coast, where ferns, palms and phormiums abound, the seaside theme seems even more appropriate; we even bought a wooden seagull for the top of the fencing. As the mild weather persists I have been able to plant up the bed with the grasses, phormiums, ferns and heucheras, as well as all the narcissi bulbs I unearthed from the previous tubs. I have divisions of most grasses that I can now keep for our NGS Plant Sale next summer, and room for some more ferns. David has fixed festive lights all around the sleepers and a multi-coloured reindeer to keep Sid the Seagull company!
My only dilemma now is how I can incorporate the tree lilies into the theme – I am thinking a pair of large metal planters either side of the front door……David, if you are reading this there are still 12 shopping days until Christmas.
Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to you all.
As Christmas approaches and I write my final blog for “My Year in the Greenhouse 2015 ” I feel a kind of sadness as my project has come to an end. But, I also feel very privileged to have shared the journey with you. From the start of Mark erecting the greenhouse in January, to the excitement of today Sunday the 13th of December when I pulled a cracking crop of carrots. This is the first time in my gardening life that I have grown decent ones and just I had to share them with you.
I have learnt more this year than any other about the seasons, I have had disasters as well as amazing successes, I have laughed I have cried, I have had fun. But more importantly I would like to thank everyone at T&M, especially Terri Overett who’s been an inspiration in helping me along the way as well as you valued readers for staying the course.
When I started this blog in January last year, I wanted it to be a tribute to he memory of my both sets of grandparents, my dad and my auntie. But I also wanted to write it to show the natural order of things, we reap what we sow, and we live and we die. Writing and poetry was a big side of the Davies family, and my late auntie used to say keep writing, even if it’s only a few sentences a day. I never thought that this blog would inspire anyone but I have had some lovely feedback, and I was very impressed when my mum and her sister, (Auntie Linda) decided to grow tomatoes after reading my posts, and even more startled that they are going to do the same next year.
In my greenhouses today I still have a sweet pepper that is in full leaf and crazily still producing tiny non edible fruit. I have so much spinach I could give Popeye a run for his money. I have two foot high sweetpeas, Yarrow, Nigella and Californian Poppy. I have spring bulbs in pots that are growing splendidly, they are there for protection from the high winds we are still experiencing. I have overwintering strawberries and begonias, cacti and aloe. I have broccoli and cauliflower in a sort of semi dormant stage. The Christmas cacti are indoors and flowering.
I have to find room somewhere in the bungalow for the money plant as when I asked a question on the T&M forum I was advised by other members that it will not overwinter in an unheated greenhouse. If it gets any larger I may have to consider wrapping tinsel around it and using it as a Christmas tree.
I will be honest, Mark and I have never experienced a winter so mild. It’s strange and a little unnerving, as a work colleague pointed out, even the trees are confused. They appear to be loosing leaves and budding in the same day. As I mentioned we have had high winds and rain and the greenhouses luckily have not had any damage, but nothing compares to the weather the people of Cumbria are experiencing. My heart goes out to them, especially at this time of year.
As the shortest day of winter approaches and the nights get chillier, excitement begins to flutter, as I realise that in a month’s time, I can sow early spring seeds again. Another gardening year will begin, a new diary will be opened and I will be wrapped up in my woollies washing pots sieving soil and crossing my fingers that my plants will grow.
My plans for 2016 are to grow more flowers. I am interested in Petunias and think I would like to try some in the hanging baskets next year. I also have a half packet of Bells of Ireland to finish off so will be growing those. I will definitely be growing Cosmos as they will be the 2016 plant of the year. I will also be growing Aster. I was given some Magic Mountain tomato seeds to try so these will be in the big greenhouse along with an orange pepper and an aubergine. I will be seeding turnips in March as well as potatoes and sunflowers.
In April I will start off he main greenhouse crops and in May I will be hardening off the bedding plants. As for the rest of the year – well that’s another story. Health wise I have to accept that I am getting older and cannot do as much as I think I can. I have been told by my cardiologist that in the future I will require two heart valve replacements – however its not going to stop me. He says it’s a question of mindset. If I tell myself get on with it emotionally as well as physically then I should be good to go. After all you don’t see annuals hiding in the corner crying about their disappearing youth.
So in the spirit of Christmas let’s all appreciate what the greenhouse gave to me.
The Twelve Months of Growing
On the first month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
A frame and glass packs times three.
On the second month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
Compost, top soil and a plan for us to see.
On the third month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
A few bags of spuds and early strawberries for a cream tea.
On the fourth month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
Pansy viola, sunflower, nicotiana lettuce and pea.
On the fifth month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
Thyme, chive, dahlia oregano and sweet chilli.
On the six month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
Lovely vine tomatoes, peppers, rocket and a cane poked into my knee.
On the seventh month of growing my greenhouse gave to me Begonia, radish, aubergine
– everything was cost free.
On the eighth month of growing my greenhouse gave to me Hundreds of pollinators
including a queen bee.
On the tenth month of growing my greenhouse gave to me Amaranthus yarrow,
poppy, mint and parsley.
On the eleventh month of growing my greenhouse gave to me Spinach,
spinach, spinach and slugs oh how disappointingly.
On the twelfth month of growing my greenhouse gave to me
A cracking crop of carrots, and that’s enough singing from me.
Wishing you all the very best for 2016.
It was a few years ago when this particular time of year gave me an idea on attempting to grow a particular plant! Seeing bunches of Mistletoe (Viscum album) in various shops and market stalls I got to thinking on how to go about growing your own and what is involved in this. I did have some idea that Apple trees can be a host and also that it is like a type of parasitic plant but other than that I had absolutely no idea on how to go about attempting to grow it. So I did what most people do these days to suss out a bit of information and that was to look it up on the internet.
Well it turned out that the seeds had to be fairly fresh and they had to be pressed on to a host tree. The seeds themselves, once separated from the berry, are covered in a thick slimy gel type of substance and the reasoning behind this is that in the wild, birds would eat the berries and then wipe their beaks on a branch. The sticky substance ensures the seeds stay put until germination takes place after which 2 green shoots, which to me have the appearance of some alien like probe, work their way out of the seed, bend around digging in to the bark of the host tree, thereby setting off the parasitic requirements required to flourish as a plant.
This is pretty much how it stays for almost the first year, I kept checking on it for growth and suspecting it was perhaps dying off but the shoots remained green. After a period of months, there was a green sprout which unfolded 2 leaves on each seed, again this was a very slow process and was pretty much all that happened in the 2nd year. They do speed up a little, the second photo shows how they are currently this year the amount of shoots are now expanding and the amount of leaves growing in number so that it is now starting to resemble a bunch of mistletoe, but will it have berries? I am told it needs to be a female plant for that to happen and early on there is no way of telling, so fingers pretty much crossed on that subject.
Also it needs to be said that as mentioned before this is a parasitic plant so some people may not be very keen on unleashing it on to a branch of their favourite apple tree, I don’t think it will kill it as that would be defeating the object of living together in harmony! But it is said to weaken the tree, then again there should be plenty of people, friends or family willing to be recipients of bunches at Christmas time which in turn reduces the load on the host, it is after all the amount and size of the bunches that would affect the growth of a host tree.
Lastly, the obligatory warning that the seeds & leaves can be poisonous! So be careful when handling and don’t leave any lying around where children and pets play. Having said that, to me this was a fascinating thing to try and grow and to observe still growing now, taking almost no effort and what is more no compost, propagator or heat required! How many seeds can you say that about!
We ran an allotment completion this year so that we could see what you make of your allotments and why they mean so much to you. Our winning entry was from Caroline Lawson from Veg in the Park, who told us all about their community growing up;
V.I.P ( Veg In the Park ) is a community growing hub for all residents across East Oldham, we don’t say allotments as this indicates it’s their own, and everything we grow we share, sell and all money will be reinvested back into V.I.P
We are a very new growing hub as we only opened in July of this year, our age range is from 3 to 95, and we all benefit from each other.
The growing hub was an idea that me and a friend came up with as we realised not all kids knew where veg came from and had never even touched or tasted some vegetables. The hub site was funded by public health and our local councillors, but we opened with no money in the bank and limited tool. With friends, we grew some of the veg in our own gardens throughout the year so when the hub was opened we could transplant what we had grown. We have 3 local primary schools wanting to have their garden clubs with us now, and we have given each school a flat bed that they can grow and produce whatever they want , they will be taking over their beds soon.
We also want to help the older folk as well as most are in bad health and even though they have gardening skills, they can no longer manage their allotments, but can come and help us. We have 18 raised beds of various heights so no bending down to ground levels, and we get expert advice from people who have gardening skills.
We also have a 50 foot polytunnel, so we are not lacking in space! Our site is all about growing from seed to plate, and we tell everyone the one rule we have is to have fun, It also helps with health & well being.
A very worthy winner!